Breath Management: Checking Airflow Levels

Three Airflow Level Checking Exercises

Breathy singing is almost always to be avoided. It is a poor use of air and goes against the goal of singing, which is to turn airflow into tone by an efficiently vibrating larynx. Some singers sing breathy as a stylistic measure, which I think it fine, but it won’t lead to a breath-management style that will serve you over the long haul. And it certainly will cripple you when it comes to longer, sustained phrases. Non-breathy phonation is superior.

You see, the goal isn’t to sing as powerfully as you can by pushing air out from you diaphragm and belly, thrusting it out of your mouth. Instead, you want to utilize every ounce of air, turning it into tone, not escaped air. This will ensure good tone, sustained pitch and give you all the tools you need to for any agility phrases that come your way.

The first exercise is the candle test. The idea is to sing phrases or scales toward the flame and neither put the flame out or cause it to flicker. Because, remember, the purpose of the airflow is tone, not wasted, escaped air that will cause the flame to flicker. And this, of course, is while singing vowels, since there is no airflow to speak of during consonants. One thing to look out for are what are called plosives (a stop of airflow from a consonant sound followed by a sudden release of air) and fricatives (turbulent airflow coming from the friction of air coming from a narrow opening in the mouth). These shouldn’t be part of the test. The test is based on the airflow released while singing vowels. When doing this one, it’s best to set the candle down on a surface about a foot away from your face.

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The second exercise has the same purpose as the first, and all the same principles apply. And, while it may not be quite as fun, it’s probably more practical. It is simply done with the palm of your hand. The difference here is that your palm is held about an inch or two from your mouth, while you sing a melodic phrase of a single vowel. If you sense a lot of warm air on your palm the airflow is not properly turning into tone. And the opposite is true if you only sense a small amount of warm air.

The final one is just like the second but a mirror is used instead of the palm. If a lot of condensation shows up on the mirror, work needs to be done to correct the breathiness. The goal is the least amount of condensation as possible, while some will be inevitable.

I hope that helps!


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